Home > Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(6)

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(6)
Ryan Graudin

Yael hugged Henryka, burying her face in the woman’s blouse. Its thin fabric held an odd mixture of smells: butter and flour, old papers and typewriter ink. Henryka’s arms were much stronger than their scrawniness suggested, vising Yael’s ribs until a mist sprang in her eyes. Yael rested in the tears and the holding for several seconds. Then she took one final, deep breath—libraries, bakeries, home—and pulled away.

Neither of them said good-bye. It was too hard a thing to voice. Too final and damning in times like these.

Yael walked to the door and gave one final glance at the far wall. Where hole-riddled continents bled red, smoked gray.

This was the last time she’d see the map like this.

Because tomorrow the end began. She was going to race from Germania to Tokyo. She was going to win the Axis Tour and earn an invitation to the Victor’s Ball. She was going to kill the Führer and spark the death of the Third Reich.

She was going to cross the world and change it.

Or die trying.

CHAPTER 4

NOW

MARCH 9, 1956

GERMANIA, THIRD REICH

Adele Wolfe lived alone on the outskirts of Germania. Hers was the highest flat in the building, with a brilliant view of the capital’s winking lights. It had been bought and paid for in full a year ago, with a chunk of the prize money from her Axis Tour victory.

Just one of hundreds of facts from Adele’s file. Though Yael knew every meter of the victor’s living space through surveillance and studying the old building’s blueprints, she’d never been inside the flat herself.

That was about to change.

Yael crouched in the back of the shiny laundry truck (the one the resistance never actually used for laundry, just stakeouts and courier errands), watching the entrance to the building. It was quiet, weighted with the stillness of almost curfew. In the past five minutes only one middle-aged man had been out, tugging a reluctant bulldog, urging it to relieve itself as he stamped and grumbled under the orange lamplight. Now he was gone and the way was clear: empty streets and Gestapo-less cars. High, high above, the windows of Adele Wolfe’s flat shone bright.

“You ready?” Kasper, driver and fellow operative, looked at her around the cracked leather headrest.

A laugh bubbled in Yael’s esophagus. Ready? Her readiness was years in the forging. What had started in the death camp as stubborn survival had bloomed into something far more lethal. Vlad’s training left her brutal in hand-to-hand combat. Bull’s-eye deadly with every weapon she fired. Henryka’s books left her with a buffet of languages and information at her disposal. In the camp she’d picked up Russian to add to her native German. Japanese, Italian, and English came later, along with smatterings of Arabic. She’d learned all she could about Zündapp KS 601 motorcycles. She’d studied the other qualifying racers, memorizing biographies and favorite cheating tactics. To cram all this into a word as short and simple as ready seemed… well, funny.

Hence the laugh.

“More than,” she told Kasper. “I’ll signal from the window when the target is secured. Be ready to help load her up.”

Kasper nodded. “Don’t push it too long. Curfew’s in an hour. I want to have Victor Wolfe back at Henryka’s well before then.”

Yael made certain her face looked like Mina Jager’s again. After one last sweep of the street (still empty, eyeless), she slipped out of the truck, through the cold night, and into the building’s marble foyer. At the end sat a shiny brass lift gate, covered in a lattice of bright X’s. It was the easiest way up, but too much like a cage. Too many X’s to cross over her face. Cross her out.

Never again.

She took the stairs instead.

Yael wasted no time when she reached the door to Adele’s flat. Her heart rattled in time with her knock. Tap, tap, tap, tap…

There was no answer. Just the flat’s heavy silence leaking out into the hall. Accenting the sharp of her own heartbeat.

Adele Wolfe was not home.

Yael’s fingers flew up to Mina’s hair, fished out two bobby pins, and bent them straight. It took only seconds to coax apart the lock, swing the door open, and enter.

Inside held a mess that put Henryka’s office to shame. Yael was, admittedly, not the cleanest person (it had taken Vlad three months to break her habit of leaving dirty glasses in the sink when she lived on his farm), but the state of Adele Wolfe’s flat made her cringe. Clothes were everywhere. Strewn over armchairs. Crumpled against the baseboards. The walls were cluttered with Reich-approved art and photographs of Adele at the Victor’s Ball, dressed in an elaborate kimono and sandwiched ceremoniously between the Führer and the Emperor. Giants of the East and West, smiling at the camera.

Yael’s skin crawled, drawing tight over her bones. She couldn’t look at their faces for long, so her eyes skated to other pictures: the ones in frames scattered between long-standing, half-finished mugs of creamless coffee.

The largest picture sat by the turntable. It sported a much younger Adele: face sullen and arms crossed. Her hair was the brightest thing in the picture, done up in pigtail braids. Her brothers each held one; their expressions full of tease. Felix and Martin were handsome (Yael had noted this fact long before, when she first opened Adele’s file), though it was hard to tell in this photo.

The crawling. It wasn’t in her skin this time, but her heart. Yael looked at the faces of Adele’s brothers—her family—and thought of the wolves on her arm. That lonely, lost pack.

Yael turned her back on all this and pushed the door shut. From the looks of things, Adele was still packing. A quick glance into the kitchen showed her that a kettle of water sat on a lit burner. (Had she stepped outside to meet someone? She must have used the lift.) She’d be back soon—or else the place would burn down.

Sure enough, the kettle was howling steam when the front door rattled open. Yael hung back, out of sight in the scratchy fabric shadows of the coat closet.

“Scheisse!” was the first word out of Adele Wolfe’s mouth. Yael watched through the crack in the closet door as the girl dashed across the flat. She flicked the flame off, muttering more curses and a loud yelp as she tried to yank the hot kettle off the burner.

The girl was distracted and frantic. Waving her burned fingers in the air. Her curses had disintegrated from Scheisses to verdammts to other colorful verbiage.

Now was the time to strike.

The crawl of Yael’s skin met the crawl of her heart. Her fingers latched on to her gun. She started to step out of the closet.

“I see some things haven’t changed,” a voice—deep and male—spoke just a meter from her, freezing Yael midstep. Her free fingers hovered over the closet door’s wood, too stunned to pull back.

This isn’t right. For months Yael had staked out the victor’s flat. Watching her go in and out. Sometimes Adele lugged armfuls of brown grocery bags; other times she was dressed in biking gear, ready to ride. Always she was alone.

But not tonight.

Yael gritted her teeth and sank back into the forest of winter coats. The strip of door light darkened as the visitor stepped past. His back was to the closet, but Yael could see he was tall, lean, strong, with muscles that made themselves known even under his jacket’s bulky fabric. He stood like a fighter—legs planted apart. Even if she caught him unawares, she didn’t think she could overpower him and Adele.

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